Senna hebecarpa

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Robert Pavlis

Senna hebecarpa, by Robert Pavlis

Senna hebecarpa is rarely grown in gardens but it deserves to be used more frequently. It is a perennial that can grow to 180 cm (six  feet) and has unusual compound leaves. Both of these features make it look more like a shrub.

Common names include American senna, wild senna and the northern wild senna. It is a North American legume, that hosts nitrogen fixing bacteria in it’s root nodules.

Senna hebecarpa, by Robert Pavlis
Senna hebecarpa, by Robert Pavlis

The flowers of wild senna are unusual in that they lack nectaries which are normally used by plants to attract pollinators. Instead, this plant has nectaries on the leaf petioles which attract beneficial insects like ants, parasitic wasps and lady beetles. In place of nectar to attract pollinators it uses special pollen. A 2016 study by Penn State found that bees are attracted to plants that produce high protein-to-lipid ratio pollen. Bumble bees foraged preferentially on Senna hebecarpa for this reason.

Senna hebecarpa, by Robert Pavlis
Senna hebecarpa, by Robert Pavlis

A potential problem with S. hebecarpa is that it seeds around a bit and larger seedlings can be difficult to pull out. I deadhead mine before the seeds mature. It is not clear how big of a problem this is since the plant is uncommon in the wild, but legumes tend to be good at spreading seeds.

Microbe Science for Gardeners Book, by Robert Pavlis

Senna hebecarpa

(SEN-nuh hee-be-KAR-puh)

Life Cycle: perennial

Height: 90 – 180 cm (3 – 6 ft)

Bloom Time: late summer

Natural Range: North Eastern North America

Habitat: open woodlands, moist meadows, disturbed areas

Synonyms:  Cassia hebecarpa

Cultivation of Senna hebecarpa

Light: part shade to full sun

Soil: grows in most soil types

Water: likes moisture but will grow quite dry

USDA Hardiness Zone: 5 – 9

Propagation: seed, division

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Robert Pavlis

I have been gardening my whole life and have a science background. Besides writing and speaking about gardening, I own and operate a 6 acre private garden called Aspen Grove Gardens which now has over 3,000 perennials, grasses, shrubs and trees. Yes--I am a plantaholic!

4 thoughts on “Senna hebecarpa”

  1. I have never seen or heard of this plant before except in its use as a natural dye, if it’s the same plant. I like the way the buds hang, makes it look tropical and I have a wetish area that would suite it well. Thank you for the information, did you grow it from seed and if so where did you get them, thanks. I live in zone 5 and grow alot every year from seed.

  2. Thanks, looks like an interesting Plant.
    Can I grow it from seed/or buy as a plant/where are they available?


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